Are those hummingbirds in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?

These photos seem to be all over the internet, but the story is not.

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In 2010, French customs officers at the Rochambeau airport in Cayenne, French Guiana after noticing some suspicious bulges, conducted an intimate pat-down of a Dutch tourist and found some tiny parcels in some very personal space.


The images are both precious and disturbing. To see these minuscule, iridescent feathered jewels bound so neatly in little cloth envelopes and housed in an array of pockets sewn into the front panel of someone’s shorts is somehow impressive and even slightly cute at first glance. And then a sinister realization creeps in: the smuggling offence aside, that is not a very nice thing to do hummingbirds. One of the birds in the photos appears to be noticeably unwell; many of the cloth wrappings are soiled, and they had at least another fifteen hours to go in that condition and right next to that “certain part of the male body.” In addition to wildlife trafficking, this should be prosecuted also as 16 counts of an “indecent act with a minor” bird!

I do not know the solution to the problem(s) of the wild bird trade. Typically, I am opposed to prohibitionism and tend to support decriminalization if not outright legalization. However, while birds are clearly my drug of choice, for various reasons, I cannot treat the bird trade and wild bird trapping as I do the narcotics or weapons trades or voluntary sex industry. In any case, regardless of whether or not wild bird trade should be banned, it does not and will not work: the demand is too high for the supply.

I do know, and I think that we all should by now, that embargo on goods and services makes for very lucrative black market business. Furthermore, if the punishment is not commensurate with the violation, then the enterprise becomes a low risk investment. The guy with his shorts full of hummingbirds was reported to be a repeat offender; he was allegedly intercepted at the same airport with an accomplice and a cargo of 53 hummingbirds two years prior to this photographed encounter. I was unable to find record of the convict’s previous offence, but in the 2010 incident, he was fined €6000. The value of his catch was estimated to be between €10,400 and €13,200. Considering that smugglers count on a 50% fatality rate during travel, it was rather too generous of the prosecutors to factor in the courier’s projected losses. The punishment was not much of a deterrent, and I would not be surprised to see more photos of this guy’s “junk” on the internet.

I wonder why these images have surfaced now. If I had a penchant for conspiracy theories, I would claim that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security leaked them. Evidently, the intrusive and unconstitutional TSA pat-downs are good for at least one thing.

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~ by finchwench on Monday, 19 September 2011.

5 Responses to “Are those hummingbirds in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?”

  1. Agree with your views

  2. When I saw this my heart sank. I would be very surprised if 50% of these birds make it, even though they have been rescued. The lack of food and water alone would be deadly for these fragile and beautiful creatures. I can’t agree entirely with your take on the crime and punishment aspect. The opportunity cost is so much higher than the rewards of this crime, not to mention the fines levied. The natural world is a common good, and no one should be allowed to destroy it this way. The only sensible thing to do is to raise the cost to the smugglers to the point that it isn’t worth it. It will work, at least sometimes, if we are willing to go that far.

  3. good article, except for the slam against the United States at the end. The TSA was not involved with this, as it happened in French Guiana. Let’s keep the focus on these poor little hummingbirds, what a horrific thing to do to them! I think birds and fish should never be pets – anything that flies in their environment should be free… I can’t imagine what these tiny little creatures must have been thinking and how their little hearts didn’t just explode from fear…

    • Thanks. My remark about TSA was not a “slam” against the nation. I was pointing out that the current TSA screening procedures have turned out to be effective against animal smuggling as evidenced by the cases mentioned in the article to which I linked; whether they are any good as anti-terrorism measures has been suitably disputed and remains to be seen.

      I do believe that people have a natural right to keep birds and fish as pets, and it is curious to me that this right seems to be more heatedly contested than the natural right to eat birds and fish, for example. That being stated, the right in which I believe comes with serious responsibilities and possibly heavy consequences for the birds (and fish), both as individuals and as populations, for the environment, and for other people.

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